Everybody goes through stressful times, it’s just part of life. But when you struggle with anxiety, stress can make the symptoms feel worse.
Recently I’ve had quite a lot going on personally. We’ve had a run of unfortunate events, our miscarriage earlier in the year, I’ve struggled with my physical health, which thankfully has begun to improve, and my husband has recently been diagnosed with Cancer. All of these things, mixed with the usual stresses of daily family life has been difficult to juggle at times. Thankfully I’ve learnt a lot over the past few years, tools which help me during tough times, some of which I would like to share.
I’m by no means an expert, and I always encourage people to speak to their health care professional if they’re struggling, but I like to share helpful tips I’ve learnt along the way, and who knows, maybe they might help one other person out there.
I know, I know, I bang on about Self Care all the time but it really is so important. Why do we feel so guilty for taking care of ourselves – especially when we are parents? We can’t run on empty, and we shouldn’t. Taking time to do something which helps you relax, or makes you happy is important – life is about balance. When we are stressed it’s amazing what some self care can do to help us relax, to help us slow down or let off some steam.
Leading on from self care, distractions helped me massively. Doing things which might take your mind off of the anxious thought or stressful situation can help, even if for a short time. For example, when we are taking long car journeys I drive, this is only because I’m concentrating so much on driving I don’t think about the anxiety I have at being in the car for long spells. Or over the past couple of months where we have been waiting on test results, and consultations we have kept ourselves busy by doing things we enjoy, being creative, writing, drawing, and I’ve recently take up an old hobby. All things which allow me to distract my mind – be careful not to become over busy and burn yourself out though.
Talk – or write
Talking can be so helpful. Whether it’s with your partner, friend, family member or healthcare professional. Online support can be a great way to connect with others or a helpline such as Samaritans. Sometimes it’s helpful to get the thoughts out of your head and this can feel like a weight lifted. If you don’t like to talk, and not everyone does, try writing a journal, it can be another great way to get those whirring thoughts out.
Stop and take some calm, deep breaths. When you’re feeling stressed, anxiety can spiral and sometimes, I’ve found, turn into panic attacks. Try some relaxing breathing exercises, you can find many online. I find breathing in slowly & deeply through the nose for 7 seconds, then breathing out through my mouth for 11 seconds. This is an exercise from Anna Williamson’s brilliant book “Breaking Mad” you can find this here.
Try to get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation is something that always comes up at our support groups and online when I chat with parents. Sleep is important for both our physical and mental wellbeing. When we don’t sleep well we feel irritable, stress feels worse and anxiety increases. It’s hard when you’re a parent; if your children are anything like mine, we are woken 3 or 4 times a night. Often I’ll wake to one of them, usually my youngest, taking up most the bed while my husband and I balance on the edge of each side of the mattress. The best thing we have found is creating a relaxed bedtime routine and the night time visits are (slowly!) decreasing.
My insomnia is awful when I’m stressed or anxious, I have awful dreams which wake me and I struggle to get back to sleep. Night time is when my thoughts can go into overdrive, so I also keep a book by my bed which I can write all my thoughts down, just to get these out of my head. The MIND website has some great information on sleep which you can find here.
Eat well and stay hydrated
I’ve written about how eating well and staying hydrated can be beneficial to our mental health as well as physical health. It was recommended to me by therapists and doctors, it’s honestly helped me with my energy which helped combat my anxiety/depression fatigue. I slept better and which helped me concentrate on my therapy. When we feel stressed we often find ourselves either losing our appetite or sometimes over eating. I’m guilty of this sometimes and over the past couple of weeks with my husbands tests and the stress of waiting for results I noticed myself not eating, then bingeing on sugary treats. Exactly what I use to do when I had PND, so I know it’s a way I react to stress, even without realising it. Be sure to keep sugar levels balanced by eating regularly, choosing healthy, nourishing options, and keeping water intake up.
Ok so I am a big believer in positive thinking BUT when you’re suffering from a mental illness you can’t just ‘think positive’ or ‘snap out of it’. I hate the quotes you often see online like “Some people would love to have your bad days” *eye roll* these perpetuate this idea that we aren’t allowed to feel any negative emotion, or get help for how we are feeling because someone must have it worse. Yeah, someone may be going through something awful, but it doesn’t take away from any pain you’re feeling in your life. Anyway I digress…. something I have found very helpful is a positive/gratitude journal. I keep one by my bed and I write any positive things which have happened. Any achievements, no matter how small. I write the things I’m grateful for, and also on the way to school in the morning I do this with the kids in the car, we say what we are grateful for and what good qualities we have i.e. “I am grateful, I am kind, I try my best, I am friendly” it is just way to remind ourselves of the positive things in our lives. When we have stressful situations, we can focus on the negative, it can consume our thoughts and even fuel our depression. It’s something I find helpful to read over, it draws my attention away from the negative and reminds myself of the good things.
So this is something I was first told about when I had my therapy back in 2012. A mind filter, is when you have a thought, particularly a worry, fear or a anxious thought and then you see it everywhere. For example, my husband has been going through tests for cancer. So everywhere I’m seeing things related to cancer. Even though I know about the ‘Mind Filter’ I still caught myself going ‘ah it’s a sign’. The reality is when we have something which we are worried about or thinking about a lot we will pick up on information we see about it; it will seem like it’s suddenly everywhere when in reality your mind is filtering out the other information and focusing and picking up on the information related to your worry. Previously, the TV/Radio adverts or posters would have gone unnoticed, but because we have been worrying about a cancer diagnosis, I’ve noticed them more. Try not to read too much into these, remember it’s your mind filter, otherwise you end up cause yourself more unnecessary stress.
These are just a few things I have found helpful when dealing with difficult times. Not everyone will find these helpful but maybe one or two will help someone. If you’re struggling reach out and speak to your healthcare provider, family or friends.
Do you have anything which helps you during stressful times? Feel free to leave any tips in the comments below.